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It was a moment of pride and honour for all Indian foodies to see acclaimed Michelin-star chef Vikas Khanna, appear on MasterChef Australia currently being aired on Channel Ten.
He was invited to set up a pressure test challenge on the 6th season of the show.
And the challenge he set up – chicken tikka masala! Now before you think that would have been easy, remember this is Vikas Khanna and this is MasterChef. The hosts were pleasantly surprised and the contestants filled with dread when Chef Khanna lifted the cloche to reveal his signature creation, rose tea smoked chicken tikka masala with coriander oil, rice pappadum and lemon rice.
Khanna said that this dish incorporated the numerous traditional elements that he learnt while growing up and travelling in India along with some modern and contemporary Western influences that he learnt while living and cooking in the US. He explained to the contestants that the smoking technique is a traditional one followed in India where spices are added to ghee and poured over hot charcoal to infuse flavour and aroma into the dish. In this particular dish, he used a mélange of spices, dried rose buds and Darjeeling tea leaves to lend a distinct tandoor flavour to the chicken.
There were many modern elements but Chef Khanna said that the main one was the chicken itself; instead of using regular boneless pieces, he created a chicken roulade stuffed with roasted tomatoes, garlic, Madras spice mix and figs to create the traditional sweet and spicy flavour tones of chicken tikka masala. The rice pappadum was the other surprise element where he infused boiled rice with orange blossom, white wine vinegar and mustard seeds and then oven baked it to create the pappadum.
The dish was a challenge for many of the contestants who were not familiar with Indian flavours and in spite of being a pressure test, Khanna was present with each contestant throughout the challenge offering advice, boosting morale and sometimes, even lending a helping hand. In spite of being such an acclaimed celebrity chef, he is an extremely warm, kind and friendly person which really came across on the show.
Khanna’s cooking journey began in his original home town of Amritsar, Punjab. He was interested in food from an early age, so naturally, his grandmother became his first teacher. She passed on to him the traditional art of his family’s cuisine. From then, it wasn’t long before he started to share his love of cooking with others. At the age of 17 he started his own catering business.
Today his accomplishments are numerous and varied, and his recognition is wide. Khanna is an accomplished chef, restaurateur, filmmaker, author, and television personality. He also runs and owns Junoon, a highly acclaimed restaurant in New York showcasing modern Indian cuisine. He admits running a restaurant is no easy task and still works very hard to prove his potential.
Other successes include catering for events at the White House in the US and authoring many books including The Spice Street and Modern Indian Cuisine. Producing and filming the series Holy Kitchen is also on this list, where Khanna takes a look at the role that food plays in our spiritual lives, festivals, traditions, and how cooking food and sharing food can bring people, and the world closer. His successes also include becoming a television chef and personality, starring in Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen, with Martha Stewart on her show, and hosting MasterChef India.
During his brief visit to Melbourne, Chef Khanna took a whirlwind culinary tour of the city with the MasterChef hosts, Gary, George and Matt. He said that he enjoyed sampling local Indian fare which also made him realise that there is much more to explore and experience in culinary Melbourne and promised that he will be back soon.
What advice does Khanna have for fellow young Indians here in Melbourne who have migrated from the east to live now in the west like he did? Was he ever lonely, did he struggle with cultural differences, how did he get his confidence?
“New York is a place where everyone is from everywhere else,” he replied. “Everyone is a self-starter and everyone is moving and creating, and that is the culture of the place. There was no one particularly lonely, there is not that sense, what you do is, you just get stuck into it, into plans and into creating a life for yourself too”.
Watch the full Masterchef episode, if you missed it, on http://tenplay.com.au/channel-ten/masterchef/episodes